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Ask Slashdot: Open Tools For Logbooks and Note-taking? 227

New submitter leonstr writes: I'm a sysadmin and I like to record my daily work in a logbook: technical notes, work progress, actions from meetings, etc. I started with the word processor on the venerable Psion Series 3a but for about 10 years I've been using Amaya. It's FLOSS, cross-platform and uses an open file format (XHTML). Amaya has its quirks but I really like it; unfortunately it's no longer being updated and I feel it's time to change. So I wonder: what do other people use for recording their work? What works well and meets your requirements?
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Ask Slashdot: Open Tools For Logbooks and Note-taking?

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  • by fisted ( 2295862 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @01:59PM (#50804317)

    it's no longer being updated and I feel it's time to change.

    This mindset is ridiculous. Why do you "feel a need to change" if it still works for you? Are you expecting remote security vulnerabilities to show up in your note-taking software?

    • This mindset is ridiculous. Why do you "feel a need to change" if it still works for you?

      Please point out where he said that it still works for him. Obviously he feels it is not meeting his needs (whatever they are) in some way. He doesn't have to justify changing software to any of us even if there is no objective reason.

      • by fisted ( 2295862 )

        Obviously he feels it is not meeting his needs

        Amaya has its quirks but I really like it

        Emphasis mine. Also note that it is present tense.

        • by leonstr ( 927273 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @04:36PM (#50805417)
          Well, if I *do* have to justify it: the latest release from 2013 is for Windows, Mac and Linux. I can't get it to compile on recent Linux distros, it won't run on new Mac OS versions, there are features I have to avoid to workaround crashes on Windows. Features that I'd like will never be added and problems I encounter will never be fixed.
        • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @05:04PM (#50805611)

          Emphasis mine. Also note that it is present tense.

          Emphasize away. Something can work and you can like it and it still doesn't meet your needs. For example I like GIMP and it works fine but I have photo editing needs that it simply cannot handle so I have to use Photoshop instead. I like plenty of tools that I no longer use for one reason or another. Might be lacking needed/desired features. Might be a security problem. Might be incompatible with a particular operating system. Etc.

    • When it comes to the tools we use to do our jobs, it can be valuable to look up from what we've always used and see what else is available. It may be that one of the competing options has a game-changing feature that fits your needs perfectly while your current solution is stagnant.

      There is always a cost to switching, but everyone has their own threshold where that cost is lower than the cost of sticking with an antiquated system.

    • Because there might be better tools out there.
      Sticking with fire and a cave works well enough... until you realize something better awaits discovery.

      I'd go with Notepad++ for simplicity and FreeMind for feature list.

      • by leonstr ( 927273 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @03:39PM (#50805079)
        Submitter here. It's got a crash bug I can work around to avoid and I think XHTML is a dead end. And yes, I wondered what else was about. I normally have one file per year so I thought if I was going to change for 2016, it was time to see what the options were. Thanks all for suggestions so far!
    • by bjwest ( 14070 )
      The fact it's no longer being updated means it will be depreciated within a couple of years. Linux isn't static, and although most legacy cli applications can and do run fine, graphical applications show their age and/or completely start to falter as the desktop evolves. I really don't blame him for looking for alternatives. If any application I used on a daily basis was no longer being updated, I'd start looking for replacements as well.
  • Vi (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MagickalMyst ( 1003128 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @02:00PM (#50804333)
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Vim, Emacs, Notepad++, Kedit, Word, JOE, SciTE,or any other editor should do just fine.

      • Me too. Saving to files named YYYYMMDD_keyword. It's searchable, compressable, and totally portable.

        • I agree with the initial comment that if what one has works, changing it seems strange. Red-Queen Races have no winners -- only losers. But knowing where one will go if their tool somehow actually won't do what they need done is reasonable.

          Point: I'm not wild about markdown, but isn't the whole point of markdown that you don't need a special editor -- just (possibly) software to convert markdown text to a real markup language when you need formatted output.

          Editors? There's a zillion of them and most are

    • by unrtst ( 777550 )


      That's all I use, but I was really hoping to see some more interesting answers than what has been provided. This is a very common "problem", and I know my text file solution has numerous deficiencies. The saving grace for a text file + vim is my proficiency with vim and the benefits that result from that. For example, there is no way in hell that a standard html + cgi based solution would ever suffice - way too slow to make updates, change status on things, move stuff around, etc. It's possible that a very

    • Me too. I keep a daily log using vim. It's FLOSS, cross-platform and uses an open file format (text), It's also easily searchable via several tools. I don't think it's been updated for a few years now, but it doesn't have any limitations that really bother me.
      • by leonstr ( 927273 )
        Vim's great (and it's still actively developed). But Amaya gives me a WYSIWYG-ish layout so I can have indented bullets, quoted text, etc. I can also include images, so easier to include a screenshot or a graph (a picture paints a thousand words -- no matter how good the text editor!).
  • I only take a single Post-It note to meetings. That helps people around me prioritize. Then, once I'm done with the stuff on the Post-It, I recycle it.

    (I used to take copious notes and kept them forever but that just pissed people off; there's comfort in having their thoughts from the past forgotten.)

    • Re:Post Its (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @02:32PM (#50804617) Homepage

      I used to take copious notes and kept them forever but that just pissed people off; there's comfort in having their thoughts from the past forgotten

      Ummmm .... tough?

      My notes are my record of what happens. They're my CYA in case someone demands we do something stupid, or comes back later and tries to claim something else was agreed upon. And they're how I know what was decided and what I need to be doing.

      Too bad if your good notes are a problem for someone later on who doesn't want the things they've said remembered. I'm not saying that "John said that Sally has a bad haircut" is something you write down. You're not trying to be the National Enquirer here.

      But if John says he'll deliver the document to Sally, and that he agrees with your proposal ... you sure as hell record that.

      Because when John tries to blame it on you later on, you flip back to your notes and say "nope, says right here". Because we're all met that particular John guy who tries to rewrite history and claim he never agreed to that.

      In fact, with sales guys, and VPs and the like, I make an extra point of making sure they see I'm writing it down. Because they're the most likely to suddenly develop a case of remembering things differently than actually happened.

      I'm not there to provide comfort for people who would rather people not remember what they said.

      • by leonstr ( 927273 )
        This! This is a key reason why I tell everyone to keep notes. There's a saying in healthcare: "If you don't write it down it didn't happen" and it applies to so many spheres. Even if your notes aren't recognised as an official record, you're most of the way to winning an argument if you've got contemporaneous notes to fall back on. Yes a VP might not accept them but other parties will quickly flounder when eyes turn to them in an awkward meeting...
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        I knew a guy who worked for one of our suppliers. He used to produce notes to back up things that would have made him look bad. We quickly realised that his notes were bullshit, and didn't match our email archives.

        To cover your arse, send email.

    • Or these is the original Hipster PDA []
  • I kick it old school ... I have a stack of lab books spanning the last 20+ years.

    I write the date on the page, and start taking notes.

    No technology required.

    • by Paco103 ( 758133 )

      I used to do that, but the manufacturers of my notebooks stopped releasing updates (new ones).

      This sounds like a joke, but I *LIKED* my 5-star notebooks with heavyweight (20 lb) paper. Most notebooks have terribly thin paper. I haven't found a replacement.

      • I have a similar problem with toilet paper. The rolls nowadays are narrower than the old standard, and I have one old holder in the basement that has a wedge-it-between-the-springy-ends design that only works with the previous width. Who is the narrow-minded idiot who decided to reduce the roll width?

        Problem is, I can't figure out where the hidden screws are in the old holder so I can remove and replace it. So, how's a guy supposed to pinch a roll before pinching a loaf? The whole things a pain in the a

        • by mysidia ( 191772 )

          Problem is, I can't figure out where the hidden screws are in the old holder so I can remove and replace it.

          Either find a different brand of paper, or unleash the tools of destruction.

          A good pair of vice grips, hammer, crowbar, sawzall, and power drill with some hole saws and strong bits for metal drilling can unmount just about anything..

          As in, most likely.... pound a wedge in behind the thing and cut the screws off.

          • Thanks for the suggestions. Based on the inspiration I received here, I ended up man-handling it until it pulled out of the wall. Turns out it was only anchored into sheetrock with those expanding plastic thingies, so it wasn't that hard to just pull out. In retrospect, I should have tried that years ago, but I was looking for the subtle approach.

        • They have been reducing the size of many things for the past decade or so instead of raising the price so your toilet paper is narrower, the block of cheese is 400g instead of 450g, they leave out 7mL out of every small bottle of cola, chocolate bars are smaller, etc. People would notice and complain if the prices went up but not many people notice when the size is reduced.

          • Indeed. Coincidentally, I recently compared a white Three Musketeers bar that I had stashed in about 1987 to its modern silver equivalent, and the new one was both subjectively smaller to the eye, and also objectively smaller by about 20% in terms of the grams listed on the two packages.

    • Bound paper engineering books with numbered pages FTW!

      I have stacks back to the 80's when I started using them. I put everything in them.

      I got deposed in someone else's battle. Went in, got the "and where were you the night of June 2?" "No clue, but let me look in my book". Opened it up and read him the entry. I keep good notes, I even keep who was there in seating order (clockwise from me, I'm last in the list, people that show up late are listed after me). The defendants lawyer was very unhappy. Si

  • Emacs org mode (Score:5, Informative)

    by Stephan Schulz ( 948 ) <> on Monday October 26, 2015 @02:04PM (#50804357) Homepage
    Emacs org mode can do notes perfectly, comes with selective archiving, and you can even schedule tasks and even record what time you spend on what. It's free form, exports to plenty of useful formats, the table mode is plain genius, and, of course, it's Emacs.
    • Even better, use Babel mode to execute tasks and capture the output for posterity, and add time-tracking in the entries to capture how long it took to set up tasks and run things.
    • by hymie! ( 95907 )

      +1 to org-mode. I'm still getting used to it (not an emacs fan) but it has nice note-taking qualities (I like my notes in a bulletted outline), some basic calendaring for logs and scheduled events, and other cool features that I haven't even begun to explore.

      • Bah, my paper notebooks have native support for drawings, bullet lists, any font I choose, arbitrary orientation of text, footnotes, annotations, and all sorts of things. ;-)

        • by hymie! ( 95907 )

          Do your paper notebooks support searching for keywords inside the articles?

          • LOL ... searching, sure .. it's, uh, natively supported, but a little slow, and there aren't any APIs. ;-)

            If I know approximately when something happened, I can usually find it fairly quickly.

            I've known a lot of people who spend a lot of time trying to keep their digital version working, or upgrading it, or whatever. It can degrade into technology fetishism, and it becomes all about having a tool to do it. People can spent a lot of time getting their digital tools "just so", almost to the point they don't

          • by JackL ( 39506 )

            No. And that is a very real drawback of a notebook. I've tinkered with computerized note taking applications for that reason but have never settled on one. There is something about putting pen to paper that forces me to think about what I am writing. And that is _usually_ enough of an assist so that if I do need to search for something that I know what project it was associated with, and roughly when that was, and where that was in which notebook, etc. But I am (kinda) old. YMMV.

            As an aside: I can't i

      • +2, and it has a nice table submode, and emitters for text, HTML, and PDF. If your boss asks what you've been doing this week, just C-c C-e and there's your report.
    • Org-mode is the answer. Start with basic outlining features and build from there. If there's something you want to do: a) RTFM, there's a good chance it already exists, otherwise b) contact the mailing list. They're very helpful and feature requests are picked up quickly.

  • Google Keep (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hydrian ( 183536 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @02:04PM (#50804359) Homepage

    While Google Keep is cross platform, it isn't FLOSS but I still haven't found anything that matches it.

    Major cross Platform support: Windows (Chrome app), Mac (Chrome app), Linux (Chrome app), iOS, Android
    Offline note taking support
    Syncing across platforms
    Multi media input types: Text, lists, audio, image/photo,
    Can be shared
    No services to manage

    Not FLOSS
    No public API
    May disappear because it is a good product :-/

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sanf780 ( 4055211 )
      So far, Google Keep has not been abandoned yet. I am using Google Keep myself. However, I keep my notes short lived: money I owe, DVDs I lend or borrow, etc. I will not miss it much if it is gone, that is, when Google decides that such a great application with no advertising is not aligned with their goal of increasing revenue.

      Another non FLOSS service is Evernote. It is popular enough that some mobile applications use Evernote under the hood.

      Another non FLOSS is MS OneNote. Some of my colleagues use it fo

      • "I keep my notes short lived: money I owe .... I will not miss it much if it is gone,"

        I believe that.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        OneNote is actually really good, and free as in beer. Most platforms are supported, except Linux maybe. It's my current choice.

    • Add cons:
      Requires Internet connection

    • Re:Google Keep (Score:5, Informative)

      by NewWorldDan ( 899800 ) <> on Monday October 26, 2015 @02:28PM (#50804583) Homepage Journal

      I would similarly also suggest Microsoft's OneNote for all the same reasons. It's probably the best Microsoft product that you're not using. Since I operate in pretty much a straight up Microsoft environment, that's what I use. Keep and OneNote are both fantastic products.

      • I would second the use of OneNote. It is the standard by which I measure all other note taking apps, and IMO, none come close ... but it does depend on what you want in said app. :) I say that after having done a survey of about 40 products, all of which think they can be used for note taking. If you can get the 2010 version, I find it better than the 2013 version.

        OTOH, I can understand wanting an "open" tool for this. As much as I love OneNote, it's hard to use on Linux and I do feel the "lock in". There
      • The android version has literally no Undo! I tried to switch (from Evernote and/or Android Lecture Notes) but the first time I wiped something out with no undo I had to switch back.

    • If they don't keep Google Keep it would be a damn shame, from the name alone. About the same as Amazon Glacier melting your tapes.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Get a notepad of graph paper, and a pen.

  • Notebook and Pen? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MerlynEmrys67 ( 583469 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @02:32PM (#50804621)
    Note: This solution has been available for many years and will be available for many more years without any changes. Also - there are some benefits where pen and paper (With date) is considered reliable in court - computer notes may not be because of the lack of dating and change control.
    • It can be hard to search 10+ years of notes, to find some mention of a project or system name. If my work gave me a laptop, I'd definitely be looking for something other than pen + paper.

    • As some people have pointed out, pen and paper isn't searchable unless you're very good at staying organized and filing things. Also, it's somewhat difficult to backup and archive unless you scan everything. Plus, it can end up taking up a bunch of space. It's also harder to share, if you want to share your notes for some reason.

      I'm not really opposed to it. I keep notebooks. But for anything important, I usually end up transcribing it into some kind of digital form. If you're worried about your note

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @02:34PM (#50804631) Journal

    Back when I was in support I used to open up Notepad and put .LOG on the first line. When you do that, every time you open Notepad it puts the time and date on a line for you. It was quick and easy to do that while on the phone. I'd use this to make notes regarding things that didn't really belong in the customer log, or for semi-personal work related research kinds of things. I always figured that if it mattered to me or anybody, I could hack up a quick script to parse it into some other format. It never mattered.

  • by bferrell ( 253291 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @02:39PM (#50804677) Homepage Journal

    I'm old school the way you are...

    Site logs are a terrific means of communicating and they've saved my butt many times. I've used elog very, very successfully: []

    • by dargaud ( 518470 )
      I second this. I've installed it for all the scientists I've worked for and they love it. Very configurable (write only, write only with small change delay, etc)
  • Nothing to add after the first two posts.
    They nailed it.

    However I have a similar question. I'm looking for an eInk device with a touch screen, that allows pen input.

    Not pen input as in handwriting, but hitting the keys of the 'virtual keyboard' with a pen (or the rubber side of an actual pencil).

    File format as text would be sufficient. RTF would be a bonus but not necessary.

    Any ideas? (I own a Nook and two Kobos, but they lack such text processing software, I already came to the bollocks idea to make me an

    • by unrtst ( 777550 )

      I'm not sure about other eink devices, but the Kindle has support for "Active Content". One of those that I have installed is "Notepad": []

      There's lots of alternatives too, and a bunch of other "apps" (ex. there's an official Scrabble app for the kindle). Unfortunately, I haven't found a good way to find them. If you go to the above link though, there's the "Customers who bought this item also bought" section that contains others, and I'm sure there's some way to find more on t

  • If you're working with GNU/Linux, consider Zim, the desktop wiki [].

    Some points for Zim:

    • Zim stores your notes in plain text with only light markup so you can also edit them with your favorite plain text editor.
    • Built-in support for version control systems, including git
    • Equations and Plots with LaTeX and Gnuplot
    • Supports multiple wikis
  • ... then just use a simple text file. Come up with your own scheme for title, date and time and it will work.
    Either as single file with search, or with multiple files and grep(1).

    The only really working alternative that I've found are:
    * a paper notebook. easily available when you have only one hand free because you're on the phone, and don't want to unlock an electronic device
    * sending yourself notes via email, and use your favourite email client for management.

    If I'd want to live in a Micro

    • ... then just use a simple text file. Come up with your own scheme for title, date and time and it will work. Either as single file with search, or with multiple files and grep(1).

      And please make things easier on yourself by setting up commands to automate your own chosen format. I have simple commands for opening a file with today's date in the name, inserting date and time into the text of the file, generating numbered lines, and so on.

      Autogenerating dates and times is particularly valuable in avoiding extremely costly mistakes.

      (For me, this is aliasing "mylog" to something like emacs ~/Notes/`date +"%Y%m%d"`.txt)

  • Many years ago, I started taking all my 'text-editor-alike' notes, setup up a wiki (dokuwiki [] plug, but there's definitely others like Mediawiki [], ect.) and added a bit of light wiki markup to them equaled instant, half-ass-looking pro-like documentation with an authentication/group control wrapper around it (e.g. local accounts or AD/LDAP tie-in).

    I don't know what organization you are in or what you can/cannot setup on a whim --- but that's what I'd do. It's SUPER cool to hear you actually care about docume

  • If it works for you, why change?

    But if you must change, I recommend using Markdown. Tons of FOSS editors out there [], and it's actually simpler than HTML. And also, in a pinch, readable and editable in simple text format.

    Glad I could help.

  • In college I found i was unable to keep a standard notebook because I never found myself opening it to actually write anything. I looked online for a solution but there was nothing that really fulfilled the logging need. I ended up writing one that was a multiple platform system, which every X amount time, configurable in a web interface, a windows written in C with GTK would open on the desktop or phone, requiring you to enter a message so it could log it back to the server. the system used multi stage
    • Some years back I ended up writing my own as well. I was looking for a handful of special features. The most important one is that while I could go back and annotate earlier text, I couldn't modify it (an overstatement, but I can't modify it from within the tool). That was important to me for a "lab" notebook: what was I thinking when I wrote this two months ago, and what do I think is different now. I also needed to be able to paste in pictures, and wanted to be able to draw circles and arrows and text
  • []

    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned it yet.

  • I've used MS Word for my log book for many years. I use the classic MS Word file format, not the newer XML-like format; since many programmes on every computing platform that's ever existed are able to open and read the classic MS Word file format. In addition, MS published the file format and so it's well understood and newer editors will always be able to create an import filter for MS Word files.
  • from Wikipedia
    "OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) is an XML format for outlines (defined as "a tree, where each node contains a set of named attributes with string values" . . .
    "The OPML specification defines an outline as a hierarchical, ordered list of arbitrary elements. The specification is fairly open which makes it suitable for many types of list data."

    I use two outliner programs: OmniOutliner and Notebook for Mac (proprietary). I've used outliners since the original More program from back in th

  • I use LaTeX reports on a webserver instead of a paper lab notebook. One, I can't lose it. Two, paper is filthy and I work in a cleanroom. In the lab I am never far from a computer with putty or RDP.
    Plaintext means I can grep years worth of reports to query what is effectively my cyborg memory. I use hyperref to create pdf hyperlinks, images are no problem. Provenance concerns are handled by my build script which commits everything to a git repository multiple times per day. If I want to scribble stuff witho
  • I know that you asked for Open Source tools, but if others are going to propose Notepad and Microsoft products, let me mention Notecase Pro.
    It comes in flavors for windows, Linux, and Mac. There are constant updates. There is a user community developing plugins. You can write in different fonts, with font colors and background colors. You can embed screenshots.
    It is a hierarchical note manager. The price is reasonable, you can get a single user (any number of computers) perpetual license, or pay more and ge

  • by CCarrot ( 1562079 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @08:22PM (#50806607)

    Just wondering if anyone else uses the [] site for questions like these? You can filter by platform and license type, 'vote' for applications you find particularly useful, suggest new alternatives...I don't know, I've found it useful in the past *shrugs*

    FYI, here's the open source alternatives listed for Amaya on the alternativeto site for all platforms (sorry about the trail-offs in some of the descriptions, but I'm not digging down that far):

    This application has been discontinued. "The project seems to be discontinued. Latest stable version, 0.7.10, was released on 2007 and last development version, 0.8b3, on 2010, but the program is still downloadable from the official website."

    Bluefish Editor
    Open Source by Olivier Sessink, Daniel Leidert | Mac, Windows, Linux
    Bluefish is a powerful editor targeted towards programmers and webdesigners, with many options to write websites, scripts and programming code. Bluefish supports many programming and markup languages, and it...

    Open Source | Mac, Windows, Linux
    An HTML editor based on Mozilla rendering engine. Supports some CSS3 features and since recently has a built-in SVG editor.

    This application has been discontinued. "Development stopped in 2005"

    Quanta Plus
    This application has been discontinued. "The project stopped at version 3.5.10, released on June 2, 2009. It can be still downloaded from"

    ACE (Ajax Code Editor)
    Open Source | Web / Cloud
    Focused and built towards coders, web designers, and web builders, ACE (Ajax Code Editor) can help users get familiar with how the coding is and it's basic structure. This web app is useful for those with...

    Open Source by | Windows
    OpenBEXI is a WYSIWYG HTML builder using the magic of HTML5 and CSS3 . By resizing, dragging and dropping various HTML widgets it is easy to build a web page. All texts using the DOJO editor, pictures...

    • While looking through the AlternativeTo site, saw something that sounds like it might fit your needs, depending on the specifics: Laverna []

      AlternativeTo describes it as:

      Laverna is a web application written on JavaScript. It's built to be an open source alternative to Evernote.

      Laverna stores notes in indexedDB and personal settings in local storage.

      ## Features
      * Markdown editor based on Pagedown
      * Manage your notes even if you're offline
      * Secure - client side encryption with SJCL and AES algotithm.
      * Synchronizing with cloud storages. At the time only with Dropbox.
      * Three editing modes: distraction free, preview and normal mode
      * WYSIWYG control buttons
      * Syntax highlighting
      * No registration required
      * Web based
      * Keybindings

      Note: never used it, never heard of it before, just throwing it out there.

  • I have similar needs and tried different solutions over the last 30 years (sigh); I suffered a lot everytime I changed jobs, and first thought that the reason was the closed-source software I used. But I finally understood that the critical issue was the format of the notes, and not the application I used to edit them.

    I finally settled for this :
    1. - Text only notes.
    2. - MarkDown format (
    3. - Work PC : ResophNotes (
    4. - Home Mac : nvAlt (http://brettter
  • Honestly, a lot depends on whether or not you want FLOSS or non-FLOSS, paid on non-paid etc. Not to mention how much actual work you want to put into your system.

    I have two, both of which are nominally "free". The first is OneNote that I use for work. It syncs across all my devices and works really well for someone who uses a Windows tablet as I can both write notes with my stylus and draw diagrams. This functionality alone makes it a stand-out awesome system for me as typically in the kinds of meetings I d

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